Traveling Vegetarian

It’s easy to eat at home-you go into the kitchen of your home and cook a meal of ingredients in your house, or after staring at your refrigerator for several moments without anything delicious magically appearing, you head to your favorite restaurant or ring up the best takeaway. When you’re traveling, you don’t have that luxury, and will find yourself staring at unfamiliar menus in a language you might not understand. You’ll find yourself trying new and unfamiliar foods every day. It is fun-but it can be difficult if you have a dietary restriction.

Yummy Vegan Desert
Yummy Vegan Desert
Vegetarian options are limited, even nonexistent in many restaurants and cities. In addition, the concept of vegetarianism (and veganism as well) is confusing to many. Be prepared to define what you will eat, but especially what you won’t eat. The popular, “I won’t eat anything with eyes” often works. If you can, learn the local words for vegetarian, which is often very similar sounding in other languages. If you can, learn how to say, “I don’t eat meat, poultry, or seafood” as those who do not understand vegetarianism may be serving you something you do not eat, innocently. Try to emphasize that you do not eat it if it is cooked in or with meat.

The concept of not eating meat to many is confusing-be prepared to explain yourself, even defend yourself. If someone continuously attacks you, try to drop the subject, or politely excuse yourself. You might feel under attack as you are questioned about rennet, leather, and fur. Suggest they read a good book that explains the importance of being a vegetarian before your discussions goes any further.

If you can, stay in accommodations with kitchens. Shopping at grocery stores is cheaper than eating out, and when cooking with fresh produce, you know exactly what you’re eating, and you know the nutritional value. When you eat out, you aren’t guaranteed to be eating something totally vegetarian-sometimes, sauces are prepared with chicken stock, or cooked with meat. In addition, the vegetarian options aren’t always the healthiest items-pasta with cheese is a common vegetarian option, often the only vegetarian option. Be prepared to suck it up and eat more peanut butter sandwiches (or cheese baguettes and crepes, as is the case in Paris) than you’d ordinarily like to.

There are vegetarian-only restaurants around the world. Many guidebooks, such as the Lonely Planet series, are good sources for names and locations of vegetarian restaurants worldwide. Vegetarian restaurants are often more costly, but it is nice to eat at a restaurant and know you can eat anything on the menu.

Be willing to make sacrifices-eat food you normally wouldn’t, or you may go hungry. Carry food with you if possible-granola bars are good for a quick fix, and stow easily in bags. Sometimes, food might be impossible to find-on several nights, I found myself eating cookies for dinner. Flexibility is important.

If you want to eat authentic food, ask staff at restaurants if they can substitute meat for other items-vegetarian moussaka, made with eggplant, is a popular item on Greek menus. Vegetarian restaurants often offer authentic fare. Check out Happy Cow for a listing of vegetarian restaurants around the world, and note ones that you might pass by in your guidebook. Browsing through cookbooks can give you ideas on ways of preparing food-which you can make in your hostel’s kitchen.

Being vegan is more difficult than being a vegetarian. Vegans don’t eat meal, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, or anything that comes from an animal. A vegan diet is even harder to maintain in many places. There is less understanding and knowledge of vegan lifestyles, and less vegan options. Often a restaurant will offer only one, or a few vegetarian options-and these are often not vegan. Staying in accommodations with a kitchen or camping is the best way to ensure that you will eat in accordance with your lifestyle.

Don’t be disappointed! People told me I would starve in Europe, and that I would be forced to eat meat. I stuck to my vegetarian lifestyle, with occasional difficulty. After hearing horror stories, I made sure I stayed accommodations with kitchens in the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, and Hungary, which made things easier.

Traveling as a vegetarian can make things more difficult, confusing, and even expensive, but it is entirely possible. From what I’ve heard, those scary bratwurst sausage things in Germany are gross. I didn’t miss much.

Cookies for dinner? Sure.